Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dear Andrew Hacker?

This is my blog-reply to an e-mail I recently received from Andrew Hacker, one of the authors (with Claudia Dreifus) of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids, and What We Can Do About It.

Dear Andrew Hacker,

You're welcome. Praising my ability to correctly spell names is setting the bar a bit low, but it's nice of you to say something positive.

I will now say something nice about your book: I agree with you about many issues. Examples:

There are too many mini-administrators, some (most?) are paid exorbitant salaries, and tuition is too high. I am concerned about the amenities arms-race that makes it a priority to have awesome fitness centers at a time when there is little money to provide adequate classrooms and other teaching facilities. I am troubled that so many "contingent" faculty, such as adjuncts, are paid so little, receive no benefits, and are not treated with respect. I think that post-tenure review should be routinely and consistently used to evaluate tenured professors, with consequences for those who are not doing their jobs well, particularly in teaching. There are outstanding students everywhere, no matter how lacking in 'prestige' the college or university.

We disagree, however, about the role of research in universities and colleges, and a few other issues (e.g., tenure). Comments from readers on yesterday's post have done a great job of addressing the researchers-as-teachers issue, including the role of graduate education in a university, so I will not focus much on that specific topic. Instead, I will explain why I did not like your book.

I did not like your book because it is little more than a string of unsupported anecdotes that justify your contempt for professors and your belief that most professors care little about teaching, don't even try to teach well, and try to teach as little as possible. Where are the data that support this?

In recent years, I have seen the teaching evaluations (student and peer evaluations) of every professor in my department and every faculty member being evaluated for tenure and promotion at a higher-level administrative unit in my university. The quality of teaching is very good, with only rare instances of poor teaching, even for the tenured professors. There is likely no general correlation between teaching skill and research success (on this we seem to agree), but I stand by my statement that teaching and research are not mutually exclusive, and are activities that can enhance each other.

I strongly believe that universities can do more to improve undergraduate teaching, and I see a strong positive trend in this direction, even as faculty are under increasing pressure to bring in more grants, publish more papers, and obtain more patents. Through my participation in searches at my own and at other universities, I have seen an emphasis on hiring faculty who will excel at both teaching and research.

In your e-mail to me, you mentioned that, as a social scientist and a journalist, you and your co-author need "evidence". When I read Higher Education?, I was hoping to see evidence for your conclusions and hypotheses. Instead, I saw anecdotes, such as one might find in a blog.

For example, your book starts with the story of a candidate who, in his interview for a faculty position, makes it clear that he is not interested in teaching and is only interested in research. The fact that he was not hired indicates to me that the system worked well, yet you used this anecdote to illustrate your hypothesis that professors don't care about teaching and try to do as little of it as possible.

Another reason I didn't like your book is because you distort facts to suit your purpose of showing how dysfunctional professors are. For example, you do not think that professors work very much. To show that faculty are overpaid slackers, you define "the basic academic workload" as "the number of hours when professors have to be at stated places at specified times." In your scheme, this includes only classroom teaching and posted office hours, and therefore professors at some universities make >$800/hour.

You have anticipated objections. In fact, you wrote that you "..can already hear anguished cries from the faculty club", and so you acknowledge that professors "..do something outside their classroom and office hours." Unfortunately, you are cynical about this something: "But the great bulk of it is less real than contrived: committees, department meetings, faculty senates, and yes, what they call their research.."

What exactly is your definition of "real"?

Yes, indeed, I do spend a lot of time on those other, possibly unreal somethings, in addition to what I call my research, including advising graduate students. You might think some of the committees are stupid (I do too) and that research should be a hobby for long weekends and summers (did you talk to any professors who run labs?), but you should count these hours in your calculations of how much professors make per hour.

Similarly, what is your evidence for your contention that professors don't work as much as they say they do? This seems to be it: "A story is told of a classroom where all the students were busy scribbling as the professor droned on. All, that is, but one, a young woman in the back row, who wrote down nary a word. How so? She had with her the notes that her mother had taken for that class during her own student days." That's the evidence? A possibly apocryphal story?

Another example: At one of the universities you visited, very few of the undergraduates you met had been to a professor's office "to discuss materials from a class". At another (Harvard), a student told you that it was "intimidating" to speak to professors, so students avoid going to speak with professors in their offices. And your point was what? As a professor and a scientist, I know better than to take what students say at face value. I need evidence that it is the fault of professors that students don't come to office hours for help when needed.

There are lots of other "interesting" ideas in your book: engineering is "vocational training", sabbaticals are "sojourns in Tuscany", mathematicians don't need tenure because what they do is not controversial.. the list goes on. I could also mention inconsistencies:
  • big football programs are bad, but 3 of your 10 favorite schools are Mississippi, Notre Dame, and ASU;
  • tenure forces universities to keep low-functioning professors, but tenure is a "feeble shield" that doesn't actually protect tenured professors from being fired;
  • research doesn't enhance teaching because, for example "The information with which a mathematics research project deals is usually inaccessible to undergraduates." (ergo.. the same must be true for all academic disciplines?)
In the end, the book fails in its central thesis about how research is harming US colleges and universities because the authors do not objectively weigh the positive and negative effects of research on undergraduates. There are no data, there are no anecdotes, there are no interviews with undergraduates who have done research, either with an individual professor or as part of a larger research group. There is nothing in the book about the rise of Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs or about how principal investigators on grants are encouraged (by funding agencies) to include undergraduates in grant proposals to enhance the "broader impacts" of research.

Participating in a small research project as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college changed my life and led me to an interesting and fulfilling career (despite the fact that I have never spent a sabbatical in Tuscany). Working with a professor who was a leading researcher in his field inspired me more than all my classes combined.

You do not have to take this anecdote at face value, especially not from an anonymous blogger, but I feel that you are attacking, perhaps from ignorance, one of the greatest strengths of our higher education system.

Sincerely,

FSP

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

We also spend many hours prepping for class, grading, and advising students.

Anonymous said...

There is likely no general correlation between teaching skill and research success (on this we seem to agree), but I stand by my statement that teaching and research are not mutually exclusive, and are activities that can enhance each other.

Wow FSP … that is not what you seemed to be saying yesterday. And let’s dispense with the strawman argument that teaching and research are “mutually exclusive,” shall we? Research and teaching may not be mutually exclusive, but obviously the more time spent on one, the less time spent on the other, and the amount of time put in is clearly a factor in how successful the outcome is. If not, why are TT faculty routinely advised not to spend a lot of time on teaching and to concentrate on their research instead?

I’m so sick of all the blah-blah on this topic from both sides of the fence. But I have to say, FSP, that if it can be established *through evidence* that there is no general correlation between teaching skill and research success, then it makes no sense to claim that teaching and research are activities that enhance each other – your personal experience notwithstanding.

As a student, my experience is that there are very few people who manage to do research *and* teaching really well. And the advice given to young faculty to concentrate on their research makes it pretty clear which skill is the more highly valued of the two.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous response.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. And I love your blog here as well as the one on Scientopia. You might be interested in something I wrote about research and the professoriate in the LA Times several years ago:

http://articles.latimes.com/2004/dec/13/opinion/oe-zuk13

I wonder if Hacker ever saw it. Carry on the good fight.

Anonymous said...

I love it. What a cordial response to such a jack ass.

melissa's said...

FSP you hit the nail right on the head -- I hope he comes back with evidence to back up his opinions. Congrats for showing more respect for Hacker than he obviously has for you, and for addressing his main thesis head on. He would also do well to read the archives of your blog and those of others who have frankly and honestly examined the academic system in the past. He can see that (while we have self-interest, like any group of human beings) we do not automatically defend the status quo, and we care about making the system better.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Meadow said...

I read this interview of Andrew Hacker http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/07/whats-wrong-with-the-american-university-system/60458/

Hacker focuses on faculty who are poor teachers and faculty who make it clear they only want to do research, not teaching. These sorts of faculty really couldn't care less about students. You've got to talk to one of these folks to believe how self-centered they are. Not surprisingly their research is second-class. The top people in most fields know the importance of engaging students.

At the other end of the scale are teachers who never do research and live in small towns in out of the way places like the ones mentioned in the article. They are fantastic teachers, terrific people, and those colleges do in fact produce high quality future researchers. I would say these faculty live lives well-spent.

As FSP notes about herself and people she knows, research enhances their teaching. I think my research enhances my teaching. No two ways about it.

In an attempt to make a valid point, Hacker is taking extreme points of view and alienating people who would support him.

I didn't like his dig about pseudonoms. Women in academia face such a soul-shattering uphill battle toward tenure and beyond that there needs to be an anonymous outlet.

Anonymous said...

You Go Girl!

sclemm said...

I definitely give a lot credit to the time I spent as an undergraduate working in a (tenured) professor's research lab. I was floating along not sure what I wanted to do after I graduated, and my time in the lab got me hooked on research.

Though I suppose if Hacker doesn't view research as real work, anyone that gets that experience and goes on to a research career doesn't count. (So let's ignore all the researchers at the USDA, USGS, and FWS as well as their state equivalents; oh, and all the science nonprofits and a lot of industry people...)

Anonymous said...

awesome response!

Anonymous said...

Very nice reply to a very ignorant e-mail, FSP.

I am still a student, and have never been privy to administrative meetings, so I cannot comment on whether "universities" care about teaching vs research. However, I will say that the vast majority of faculty I have encountered, at least and especially at undergraduate institutions, really do care about teaching. Most of them like their respective fields and enjoy educating their students about them. Science (humanities) faculty love talking about science (humanities), and teaching gives them the opportunity to do just that. And in advance classes, they can often weave in some of their own research.

And it's not just the sciences -- I took several humanities courses that were centered on a topic that the professor was currently researching for a book/article/etc. The professors benefited because they could use their students as sounding boards for their ideas, and the students liked it because the material was "fresh" and it gave them the opportunity to see the research process in action. (And yes, most of the time faculty do acknowledge students' contributions to their work in the final products.)

Granted, not all undergraduate professors are good at teaching, but most of them at least wanted and tried to be.

In regards to hours worked by faculty -- a flexible schedule does not automatically translate into a short schedule. While I'm sure there are some faculty who do not put in a long work week, I am also sure that they are the exception and not the rule. (And also that they are unlikely to get very far in a competitive academic setting.) In my experience, it is far more common to see professors working at all hours, even if some of that work may be done from off-campus. I know of one engineering professor who was known for answering students' e-mails within 15 minutes, even at 1am, because he was never away from his computer and his work.


In terms of the apocryphal anecdote -- I have taken classes in which professors gave the exact same lecture that they had given 3-5 years ago. While sometimes this did indicate laziness or disinterest on the part of the faculty, in most cases, the repetition was simply unavoidable, because the type of the class and subject being taught did not lend itself to much variation. (i.e. There are only so many ways the neuronal pathways in the upper arm can be taught in a basic anatomy class. And if you've found a really good way to teach someone to handle integrals and derivatives, why not use it again for the next year's class?) I have never seen this happen in an advanced class, however. Unlike large intro or survey courses, many upper-level classes can change from one semester to the next, especially if the course topic is cutting edge.

I will say, though, that while I saw very very few instances of disinterested faculty leading my undergraduate courses, I have seen more than I would like as a graduate student. This may simply reflect the institution that I'm at, which does not have an undergraduate presence, but many of the faculty here do not like teaching and would do anything they can to get out of it. An alarming number of them don't seem to care about *mentoring* their graduate students, so much as about getting as many publications out of them as possible. i.e. they would prefer to treat their students as techs who would just carry out experiments for them, rather than as mentees who should be taught how to design those experiments. Again, this may well be a reflection of the specific pathological state of my own institution/department. Most of the students I've spoken to at other graduate institutions do not have these complaints. (i.e. the grad students at my undergraduate university were very happy with their faculty mentors.)

Ewan said...

Participating in a small research project as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college changed my life and led me to an interesting and fulfilling career (despite the fact that I have never spent a sabbatical in Tuscany). Working with a professor who was a leading researcher in his field inspired me more than all my classes combined.

This is exactly what I hope to be achieving: in my classes, I can maybe affect a couple of hundred students but likely only marginally in most cases. For the half-dozen or so each year who work in the lab, with luck, I can change their lives.

[Obviously, I couldn't do that if I had no research.]

As it is, I use my research in almost every class I teach, but as content to convey and as guidance for the optimal learning environment.

bsci said...

FSP is implying something that I'd take a step further. If you are an undergrad at a research university and you aren't involved in research, you are wasting your money... you might still get a great education, but you're missing out on one of the main resources that comes with attending this type of school.

For him to have written a book and not considered whether undergrad participation in research was part of their education is gross incompetence.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Wow. Very thorough and convincing critique. It sounds like the author could have used a course in research methods as an undergraduate. And perhaps some research experience in addition.

It's distressing to me precisely because a lot of my teaching job is training my students to evaluate the quality of research rather than taking conclusions at face value. Our graduates will be going out into the real world effecting policies, working for companies, and just being good citizens... it is really important that they learn to think critically and evaluate things critically. These authors are doing a disservice to those aims, both through their own shoddy methods and their unwarranted conclusions.

On the other hand, their "findings" would make a great example for my methods class... maybe I'll stick something on an exam. They tend to get a kick out of these self-referential jokes. ("A survey finds that 73% of people believe that correlation is indeed causation. This finding has turned science on its head and sent ripples through the community. Now that we know correlation is causation, science is a whole lot easier!")

Comrade PhysioProf said...

This asshole motherfucker knows full well that he and his co-author are thoroughly full of shitte. They are doing nothing more than pandering to (1) an angry aggrieved middle-class audience who is looking for someone to blame for their own social and economic ills and (2) a greedy vicious plutocratic audience who is looking for side-shows to divert the attention of the angry aggrieved middle-class audience from the genuine causes of their social and economic ills.

Trying to explain to this scumbag why he is wrong is a waste of time. He is not mistaken; he is a shameless liar.

Anonymous said...

"Participating in a small research project as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college changed my life and led me to an interesting and fulfilling career (despite the fact that I have never spent a sabbatical in Tuscany). Working with a professor who was a leading researcher in his field inspired me more than all my classes combined."

This is exactly why I am doing what I'm doing! I could have written that same statement - Glad to such a noble response to a turkey.

albe said...

This is a great response.

I was floored by the "mathematicians don't need tenure" remark of his. It reminds me of the story of Andrew Wiles, a mathematician at Princeton who, under the protection of tenure, became world famous by proving Fermat's Last Theorem after mathematicians had been trying to do so for over 300 years. He worked on this proof in secret for years, knowing that he would have been ridiculed if people had known what he was doing. He began this work in 1986 (the final proof was published in '95) and appeared to outsiders to be unproductive because he was devoting his time to the proof -- it never would have been possible for him to do that without tenure protecting him.

ackey said...

I'd like to repeat what others have said about the importance of undergraduate research. I wasn't particularly great at classes, but I loved (and was good at) research. It is what convinced me I had picked the right discipline and should get a PhD in it.

When I first wanted to do research, I had to talk to a faculty member about it. I didn't feel comfortable approaching faculty members I didn't know, so I started with a professor I had for a class. Had my classes only been taught by non-research faculty, I may not have gotten involved in research. But being comfortable approaching this professor about her research led to a great research project.

Sure, I saw some professors get tenure due to excellent research and less-than-perfect teaching. But teaching can be improved through workshops, mentoring, and practice. I saw the university work with faculty who got bad teaching reviews, so I know they cared. Being an excellent scientist isn't as easily developed, so it is pointless to give a mediocre researcher tenure at a research university and hope they become a better scientist.

Katie said...

Anonymous 12:58: "...if it can be established *through evidence* that there is no general correlation between teaching skill and research success, then it makes no sense to claim that teaching and research are activities that enhance each other..."

Logic fail. Just because you're good at research doesn't mean you apply it to improving your teaching. Therefore, the lack of a correlation between teaching success and research success does not disprove the hypothesis that the two can enhance each other.

Anonymous said...

A quick google search on Hacker came up with his entry in "ratemyprofessor.com". He gets an average of 3.6/5 on all qualities except "easiness" where he gets 3.2. Without wanting to invest too much in the judgments of this web site I wonder if someone can calibrate how that stacks up relative to others - I couldn't find any statistics for example on the distributions of scores professors get. But reading the comments it sounds to me like he is not a superstar teacher himself.

If there is no correlation between teaching and research, that means those who do no research (or who do it poorly) are not on average better teachers than those who do it, or do it well. So if a school is going to get the same distribution of teaching abilities whether their faculties do good research or not, why wouldn't they also want to have the research?

His advocacy for lesser-known colleges, critique of research, and claim that Ivies etc. are overpriced are all fine as far as they go but sound a bit like sour grapes that he is stuck at a second-tier (maybe third-tier) institution... see his Colbert interview where he says that Ivy grads could do just as well by going to Queens College (where he teaches).

Anonymous said...

Most of this discussion supposes that most faculty have a choice in their focus.

I, like most TT faculty hired recently, was told my focus, and my targets for tenure, and I arrange my time accordingly.

There is a larger process at work here than just what faculty choose to do with time. Yes, we do have some choices, but on a large scale we are responding to administration goals/finances, which are often responding to state (if a state school) finances, etc....

We are also competing for funding with colleagues at other institutions, and thus need our time allocated such that we can compete with them.

In other words, Hacker does not see the big picture.

GMP said...

FSP, you provided an admirably nuanced response to the rude and dismissive email he sent you (not to mention his comment to the original CHE post). But, I fear your tact might be lost on Hacker: he strikes me as person who has no interest in seeing differing points of view, or, God forbid, having his own logical fallacies and astounding ignorance of the life at research universities pointed out.

Anonymous said...

An earlier commenter mentioned the Atlantic interview with Hacker:
http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/07/whats-wrong-with-the-american-university-system/60458/

The article is strange because the interviewer's questions themselves are leading. For example,
"That's a strong theme in the book: professors spend their time doing research and teaching relatively few classes, and students end up footing the bill. Are you against the idea of faculty research altogether, or do you think some research deserves to be funded by universities?"

At most "public" universities, students do NOT foot the bill (something like 20% of the budget is from the state), and universities do NOT fund most of the research. I think this is true even at universities with high tuition -- overhead on research grants pay for a lot of the universities operating budget, as well as endowments, but not so much tuition.

Holly said...

HIGH FIVE!

Anonymous said...

Katie, I think you’re the one with the logic problem here. If two activities enhance one another, there should indeed be a (positive) correlation amongst them. Seriously, open a basic stats book, please….

I know that I’m not stating a popular opinion here, and you’re certainly welcome to disagree with me. But let’s just be clear that it has nothing to do with the logic of my comment. In fact, what seems supremely logical to me, and from a bunch of scientists, no less, would be to stop banging the “research+teaching 4-ever” drum until one has data that can actually confirm this.

Anonymous said...

@Katie and others: here’s an example of a post from someone who at least makes an attempt to look beyond anecdotes.

Anonymous said...

@nicoleandmaggie: Now that we know correlation is causation, science is a whole lot easier!"

I find critiques like these of the “correlation is causation” fallacy to be somewhat disingenuous. Of course correlation is not causation, and students should be taught the difference. But you also need to acknowledge that in everyday language, causation effectively means very VERY high correlation. Would you tell someone who says, “Science has shown that cigarette smoking causes cancer,” that they’re wrong? Perhaps assigning your students Virginia Woolf’s essay, “The Mark on the Wall,” would be a better use of their time.

inBetween said...

Amen.

Dr. Hacker sounds like a bitter guy who never got the research university tenure-track position he really wanted.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Anon 3:08 One way of getting at causation through correlation is by coming up with a causal pathway. In the case of smoking and lung cancer, there is a convincing causal pathway. If there was just a correlation mysterious out of nowhere and no way to explain it, then no, it wouldn't make sense to claim that smoking causes lung cancer. Other methods of attacking the smoke and lung cancer issue involve time series and natural experiments. We're not just using correlational evidence when making policy recommendations, nor should we.

A good counterexample is that of crack cocaine and birthweight. You may remember the crack babies headlines in the 1980s. It turns out that crack cocaine actually does not CAUSE low birthweight even though there is a strong correlation between birthweight and mother's crack usage. The OMITTED VARIABLE is, of course, cigarette smoking, which is correlated with both low birthweight and with use of crack cocaine. Although most smokers do not use crack, most crack users also smoke.

Another example is ice cream consumption being negatively correlated with crime. Obviously we need more ice cream trucks.

Many of my students come in not understanding that correlation is not causation and they are easily swayed by correlational arguments. We spend the entire semester discussing omitted variables bias, reverse causality, internal and external validity, ability to trust sources and so on. In the second semester we get at causation.

It's bizarre that you're attacking my entire class based on one paragraph (which showed up on my midterm exam in a longer form... "Find 2 things wrong with this statement." There were several possible answers. One answer being of course, the uninformed respondent problem. Just because people think something is true doesn't make it true.)

Anonymous said...

@nicoleandmaggie: Anon 3:08 here. Without knowing what your background is, it’s difficult to come up with an appropriate response to your comment above. So I will just say this: science can never tell you whether one thing causes another. What you get from the scientific method is data, and data can be used to prove or disprove the existence of correlations. In the simplest experiments, you tweak knob A and observe effect B – this is still just correlation. It is only from the *interpretation* of data (and often multiple data sets) that one can make claims about causation. But this has nothing to do with science per se – this is why two scientists can disagree about what the data show and both can still be considered good scientists. Terms like “causal pathway” sound meaningful, and in certain domains they are undoubtedly useful, but I hope you teach your students to look beyond names and think deeply about the underlying process.

As for attacking your entire class, I don’t see where I did that. All I did was suggest that giving your students a well-known essay that expands upon the topic of science and causation might be a better learning experience for them than answering cutesy questions on an exam.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Hacker's utter inability to grasp why a female science professor might want to write anonymously demonstrates that he's pretty steeped in sexism, on top of everything else.

Thank you for writing such a nuanced response. I am still boggling at Hacker's claim that professors don't work hard and are doing useless research. I won't even touch the "research is pointless" thing; I just keep thinking about my ridiculously awesome overachieving advisor who makes all us grad students feel rather slacker-ish.

Ann said...

I dont think Hacker understands that the economics of research universities is positively affected by the federal research dollars. The undergraduates are not subsidizing research, and many of them benefit from the opportunities.

But I think you are giving him and his book too much underserved publicity.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"the economics of research universities is positively affected by the federal research dollars. The undergraduates are not subsidizing research, and many of them benefit from the opportunities."

There is now some dispute about whether tuition subsidizes research, research funding subsidizes education, or there is no net flow between the two funding streams.

There have been some careful analyses that suggest that tuition is subsidizing research at the University of California. (Of course, it is difficult to follow the money through the arcane bureaucracy of UC, so it is possible with reasonable methods and assumptions to get very different results.) The problem is that the negotiated overhead rate is usually not enough to cover the infrastructure costs of the research, as it is supposed to.

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student paying her way by teaching at community college. I support that idea that the two are not mutually exclusive, even if the discipline I teach is not the discipline I'm getting a phd in. And I don't even run a lab or have research students! My students, though, have the advantage of hearing new ideas and lecture that doesn't remain static.

If only my committee was so excited about my teaching.

EliRabett said...

Allow Eli to make a point about pseudonyms. There are two classes of people that affect a faculty members desire to use one: students, colleagues and the people who evaluate our proposals (you didn't expect that a Rabett could count).

In the case of the last two, plausible deniability is often all that you need, but increasingly, the first thing people reach for on getting a proposal to evaluate is the Google.

Female Computer Scientist said...

Great post.

In addition to having a less than stellar reputation on ratemyprofessors.com, Hacker's citation index is also unimpressive. Ignoring his 2003 book he does not appear to be a particularly well-cited scholar.

Doctor Pion said...

Sweet. And you didn't even bother to observe the psychology of a Professor and the Domestic Partner of a Professor who both hate professors.

Confusing the plural of anecdotes with data is quite common outside of the Real Sciences (Real Sciences are the ones that don't have "science" in their name), so don't be so hard on him and her there.

What exactly is your definition of "real"?

Asking that of a social scientist makes me LOL. It would only be funnier if he was a philosopher.

But not listing grading time or prep time as work hours is a an act of negligent malfeasance on his part. Didn't his "study" collect "data" about that? (For the record, I am actually working during my morning shower and, sometimes, my commute. Some of my best teaching and research ideas have come to me during a nice warm shower.) Maybe he only gave multiple choice exams from a test bank in his classes, but that isn't the case in mine. I project that I will be grading about 800 pages of final exams over three or four days when this semester comes to an end. I invite him to watch - the entire time - if he needs some "data" for his next book.

Similarly, if you know that professors are denied tenure if they don't do sufficient research, then you are negligent if you don't count those hours as work time. And if he doesn't know that the Modern University cannot flourish without Big Science Labs managed by Female Science Professors, he must never have set foot on the campus of one of them.

Doctor Pion said...

Anonymous @ 12:58AM on 1/12/2011 argues that your statement here contradicts what you said the day before.

I disagree.

FSP wrote "there is a misconception that teaching and research are exclusive" and supported this with "... being an effective researcher requires some of the same skills that we need to be effective teachers: To get grants and publish our results, we need to be able to communicate what we did in a clear and compelling way, and explain to nonspecialists why our work is important. So, too, do we need to do that with the concepts, facts, and ideas we want to teach our students."

I see no conflict.

Claiming that those two are mutually exclusive is tantamount to arguing that there is a universal ANTI-correlation between them, not the lack of a general correlation between them. Big difference.

The reason there is no GENERAL correlation between teaching skill and research success is because research success depends on CREATIVITY in a way that teaching does not. It also depends on writing skill in a way that teaching does not. You can be a very good teacher and a poor researcher, but it is not hard to find people who are good at both.

The few examples I have known of great researchers who were poor teachers were all people who were not teaching in their native language or were only poor teachers in low level courses because they simply could not communicate with people who lacked certain basic knowledge in their field.

EngineeringProf said...

Anonymous wrote: Would you tell someone who says, “Science has shown that cigarette smoking causes cancer,” that they’re wrong?

No, I wouldn't: because the conclusion that smoking causes cancer is founded upon a lot more than just a correlation. There is a great deal of evidence, of many sorts, that smoking causes cancer. So really, this is a lousy example and does not support your implicit argument that "correlation usually is causation, no matter what anyone says".

EngineeringProf said...

Anonymous writes: In the simplest experiments, you tweak knob A and observe effect B – this is still just correlation.

If it's a controlled experiment, it's not just correlation: it's a lot more than that.

I think this is a critical issue for classes. Many students are easily misled by statistical evidence and find it mind-expanding to learn about this subject and related topics: e.g., why we do controlled experiments, the difference between single-blind vs double-blind experiments, natural experiments, what to do when you can't run a controlled experiment (e.g., controlling for other factors) and the limitations of doing so, and in general, how to interpret statistics and scientific findings. It's deep, intellectual, relevant, and useful, and I've found that if you present it well, students are incredibly engaged.

Anonymous said...

@EngineeringProf: You were either incredibly tired or rushed when reading my comments, or else you have unbelievably poor reading comprehension skills. In response to your comments:

…your implicit argument that "correlation usually is causation, no matter what anyone says".

What part of: “Of course correlation is not causation, and students should be taught the difference,” did you not understand? What part of: “It is only from the *interpretation* of data (and often multiple data sets) that one can make claims about causation,” was unclear to you?

If it's a controlled experiment, it's not just correlation: it's a lot more than that.

No, it isn’t. Correlation is not a dirty word – get over it.

I think this is a critical issue for classes….

Who said it wasn't? I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to nicoleandmaggie: “I hope you teach your students to look beyond names and think deeply about the underlying process.” You might start by thinking a little more deeply about some of the comments you read on blogs.

Anonymous said...

Doctor Pion: You can be a very good teacher and a poor researcher, but it is not hard to find people who are good at both.

I disagree – but let's just assume you're right for the sake of argument. If it’s not hard to find people who are good at both, i.e., if such people are relatively common, then *in general,* one should observe a positive correlation between teaching and research skill. Do you not get this? Cause it seems rather obvious to me….

…were only poor teachers in low level courses because they simply could not communicate with people who lacked certain basic knowledge in their field.

Like freshmen, for example? But who cares about them, eh?


And finally, what I wrote was: “Wow FSP … that is not what you seemed to be saying yesterday.” The word “seemed” in there is very important. That statement is not equivalent to:

“Wow FSP … that is not what you said yesterday.”

Which is the way you appear to have interpreted it.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Regarding the "mathematicians don't need tenure" thing: Correct me if I'm wrong (as I may be), but wasn't mathemetician Chandler Davis the only U.S. academic who plead the first amendment, rather than the fifth, in the HUAC hearings (and served jail time for it)?

Anonymous said...

Andrew Hacker seems to be a bitter,
second rate professor who did not get
a chance to study as an under graduate student at an IVY League school and later on could not get professorship at an IVY League College. He doesn't understand the importance of Research or Math in the present world where many countries are competing with us and doing an doing very well. He seems to think 'political science and a third rate school with which he is associated ' are all that matters. His book deserves only one
location: GARBAGE

Anonymous said...

Andrew Hacker is, or at least was probably, a brilliant mind for his time. But he's stuck in the past, deepy sexist, and doesn't really know how to teach. I've had him in class, and I've read the book. And the book is, quite honestly, as crappy as his lectures. Everything he says is anecdotal... completely unsupported by evidence, and if you were to write a logical analysis or response to any topic he poses in class, if he can't understand it, or it isn't written his way, or for God's sake slightly deviates from his thought, he won't grade you. It's ridiculous, honestly.

And his writing is a reflection of that. I don't know why he's allowed to teach. The man has brilliant thoughts, but has no idea how to back them up. And if you manage to do so, relying on more than just (his) anecdotes, he becomes defensively insecure about it.

So, yes FSP. I agree.